The Los Angeles Times Opinion L.A. blog posts, "Alabama killer case: When a jury says 'life' and a judge says 'death'," by Michael McGough. He's a member of the paper's editorial board.
And if the fact that judges are elected calls into question a decision to impose the death penalty, why doesn’t it also discredit their other sentences? Voters who like judges who sentence murderers to death also like judges who throw the book at rapists, bank robbers and drug dealers.
Sotomayor made another point: that allowing judges to decide on death sentences might contradict a series of recent decisions in which the court has said that any fact that can lead to an increased sentence must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. She noted that the case in which the court announced this rule, Apprendi vs. New Jersey, was handed down in 2000, five years after the court upheld Alabama’s practice of allowing judges to override juries and impose the death penalty.
But the Apprendi decision and subsequent rulings expanding on it involved the finding of facts — such as whether a defendant had a racial motive, or killed his victim in an especially cruel way, or possessed a certain quantity of illegal drugs. In deciding whether to impose the death penalty, the judge or jury must balance aggravating factors against mitigating factors, a much more subjective process akin to the one judges engage in on a daily basis.
Earlier coverage of Justice Sotomayor's dissent in the Alabama case begins at the link.
Justice Sotomayor's dissent in Woodward v. Alabama is available in Adobe .pdf format.